Obama Adresses General Assembly in Springfield

Erika Ward

 President Barack Obama returned to the place where his political career began – the Illinois General Assembly – on Wednesday, Feb. 10 to discuss
political unity.

 Obama, who avoided making direct comments regarding the current budget impasse the state of Illinois is facing, did speak to the importance of unity and compromise in government and between parties.

 “One thing I’ve learned is that folks don’t change,” Obama said. “So trying to find common ground doesn’t make me less of a Democrat or less of a progressive. It means I’m trying to get stuff done. And the same applies to a Republican who, heaven forbid, might agree with me on a particular issue – or if I said America is great, decided to stand during the State of the Union. It’s not a controversial proposition. You’re not going to get in trouble.”

 Obama went on to suggest potential ways to improve the political atmosphere in the United States.

 “Now, I don’t pretend to have all the answers to this,” Obama said. “These trends will not change overnight. If I did, I would have already done them through executive action. That was a joke, guys. Relax. A sense of humor is also helpful.

 “But I do want to offer some steps that we can take that I believe would help reform our institutions and move our system in a way that helps reflect our better selves,” Obama continued. “ And these aren’t particularly original, but I just want to go ahead and mention them.”

 The first issue Obama discussed was the influence money has over the political world.

 “I don’t believe that money is speech, or that political spending should have no limits, or that it shouldn’t be disclosed,” Obama explained. “I still support a constitutional amendment to set reasonable limits on financial influence in America’s elections.”

 The president also addressed the current distribution of congressional districts and that the current method, with lawmakers able to “precision-draw constituencies so that the opposition’s supporters are packed into as few districts as possible.”

 “And while this gerrymandering may insulate some incumbents from a serious challenge from the other party, it also means that the main thing those incumbents are worried about are challengers from the most extreme voices in their own party,” Obama said. “That’s what’s happened in Congress. You wonder why Congress doesn’t work? The House of Representatives there, there may be a handful – less than 10 percent – of districts that are even competitive at this point.”

 Obama explained that the two parties are busy worrying about what one is saying about the other, bringing issues away from the middle of the political parties and into the extreme, which polarizes the American people.

 The president also said the issue could be resolved by voters picking their politicians, not vice versa.

Obama went on to explain that the biggest way to make these changes and make a difference in politics is to actually go out and vote.
“No matter how much undisclosed money is spent, no matter how many negative ads are run, no matter how unrepresentative a district is drawn, if everybody voted, if a far larger number of people voted, that would overcome in many ways some of these other institutional barriers.”

 Obama said that the best way to increase voter turnout is to make the process easier.

  “Think about it,” Obama said. “If you’re a single mom, and you’ve got to take public transportation to punch a clock, work round the clock, get home, cook dinner on a Tuesday in bad weather that’s tough. Why would we want to make it so that she couldn’t do it on a Saturday or a Sunday? How is that advancing our democracy?”

 Obama continued his speech, reiterating the power of voting and encouraging more open-mindedness and compromise between parties.

 “Rather than accept the notion that compromise is a sellout to one side, we’ve got to insist on the opposite that it can be a genuine victory that means progress for both sides,” Obama said.

 “And then rather than preventing our kids from dating people in other parties well, I may have issues about dating, generally but we can trust that we’ve raised our kids to do the right thing, and to look at the qualities of people’s character, not some label attached to them.”

 Addressing the Land of Lincoln, Obama spoke on the Republican president’s history and progress made in politics during his time.

 “That’s the thing about America,” Obama said. “We are a constant work in progress.”

   The president endedhis speech by thanking everyone and saying that he misses the people of Illinois and then exited the area in his motorcade.